Wednesday, 25 November 2015

SO SORRY TO BE SO ABSENT/Landscape Artist of the Year

I am afraid I have been a bit pants as a blogger for some time really.....but I do have an excuse, sort of!

This week we are moving house.  The lead up to this moment has been very unrelaxing, including a bout of shingles - so I am afraid I just haven't had the head for blogging.

However, watching last night's Landscape Artist of the Year, won by Nerine Tassie (her maiden name) inspired me somewhat, so I thought I would just write a few words despite being surrounded by boxes and removal men!

I know that this year's programme was thought, by many, to have had some odd results - the chosen trio for the final not necessarily artists who were generally understood and liked.  In fact, I had a very hard time getting to grips with some of the imagery liked by the judges - but I finally understood, in the end, that the judges were not the slightest bit interested in anything resembling a well-painted accurate rendering of a view....they were looking for very much more.  They wanted their artists to demonstrate an ability to use the landscape PURELY AS A STARTING POINT, and then to have the courage to allow their imaginations to take over in order to produce a painting showing unique vision - vision which was as much about internalising the landscape and reinventing it, as anything else.

Given this concept, I enjoyed the final, enjoyed a glimpse into the working practices of three very different artists, and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the secondary images they produced outside of the final, where they had time to realise their visions without the time constraint of 4 hours.

Nerine Tassie's work won the day.  Whether you like her work, or not, it is undeniable that she fulfilled the brief of producing a work which demonstrates unique personal vision.  Here are two more pieces from her website, one of her mystical woodland scenes, and a seascape:!new-work/cjg9

In neither work do we find pedestrian copying of reality going on.  This is the work of a painter who has found her own unique style as an artist. 

Like them, or hate them, it is undeniable that these works are atmospheric, intriguing, and probably will leave a much more powerful impression on the viewer than "prettier" pieces.

from her website:

Nerine McIntyre still paints under her maiden name Tassie. She graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2002 with a degree in Fine Art. Natural spaces and forms provide the basis and inspiration for her work, in particular the coastal waters and woodlands around her home. These landscapes are ever changing and at times daunting and they provide infinite subject matter for her work. Her paintings are primarily an exploration of the mystery of nature within this subject matter and she says she has always sought to create a strong sense of atmosphere and connection to place within her work.
More recently she has been exploring the relationship between composition and frame within each painting, experimenting with this balance in order to create more depth of focus for the viewer.
"I enjoy the act of painting and the physicality of the paintwork on the canvas and so my process of working involves experimenting with base layers of varied materials in order to constantly develop new experiences within each painting". Exploration of materials and using a variety of painterly techniques creates a rich texture to the work and means that each painting takes on its own developing surface and object quality.
I feel quite privileged to have been able to watch Nerine work and I am personally glad she won.
Back to the packing....................

Saturday, 12 September 2015


I have just returned from a glass "Masterclass", and throughout the week, we were shown slides of our tutor's work and the progression of her career.

She was at pains to point out to us that she worked, always, to a theme, first deciding on her point of interest, and then producing sketches and thoughts on paper to explore that particular "idea".

As a result, her work has evolved gradually, moving from series to series, each series with a nod to a previous series.

Many artists work in this way, whether they are producing two dimensional, or three dimensional work.  Others jump from one idea to another, each day or week a different subject.

I would suggest that if you want your work to "grow" in maturity, you consider the idea of working to a series - particularly if your inclination is  to simply wake up each day and pick a different subject as your mood takes you.    I am not suggesting this is a "wrong" way to work, but recommending you try a series approach.  Because, with a series, you will discover that your thoughts will solidify as you work, ideas will develop automatically and seamlessly, and each piece you produce will lend strength and power to the previous one, particularly if you eventually plan to show your work.

I am still in the learning stage of becoming a "glasser" - someone who works with kiln-formed glass.  However, I decided to keep to a particular colour theme for the masterclass, and was glad that I did because they do show rather well together and I feel each one "adds strength" to the other.  These are the pieces I produced during the week, when I learned about producing "drop vessels" - a rather remarkable way to work which begins with flat sheets of glass.  No glass blowing involved here!

As a painter I have usually worked in this way, and have enjoyed the whole "series" idea.  I have done a Venice series, a woods series, a garden birds series,  a children-at-play series, a sea-scene series, a group of market scenes, a group of still life images, a garden is only occasionally, now, that I will tackle a single image, since working in a series has become something of a habit.   

My 2D work with enamels done for this year's Open Studio (in progress now, ending 27th September, call or email me for details if  you might like to pop along)   shows the series idea...I worked exclusively with landscape.... and for the future ....I plan to try to apply this to my work with glass.  It is, I firmly believe, a healthy way to work, and habit worth developing.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015


For those of you who like to draw with accuracy - particularly perhaps those who draw from photos, there is a tool on the market which can help you double-check your drawing for accurate proportions. 

I have noticed that even when drawing landscape images from photographic reference, people still get proportions wrong - mountains too high, fields too large..... I suspect this is because they are drawing what they THINK should be there, rather than measuring accurately - - and it can also be because it sometimes tricky with a small photo.

Drawing a portrait, or figure, from photo reference, is also fraught with difficulties if you simply draw freehand.  It can actually be easier to use the old "hold a pencil out" method when you have a figure in front of you...because a real face is bigger and therefore easier to work with, than the tiny shapes on a small photo.

You can use the grid method to "scale up" a photo...but this can lead to fairly stiff drawings in my experience.

For a looser drawing instead, you can draw freehand as much as possible...and then use this little tool to double-check your drawing.  With it, you will very quickly discover where you have gone wrong, and can then make adjustments.

For those living outside of the UK, there is the ACCURASEE PROPORTIONAL DIVIDER.  For those within the UK, there is the DERWENT SCALE DIVIDER.   Actually - there are lots of sources for both, and for plenty of others. you just need to check Google.  You will even find instructions on how to make your own!

 They all work in the same way, and this picture speaks more than a thousand words:

Line up the short end, fix the measurement, and the other end will give you a perfect scaled-up measurement!  SO USEFUL!!!  You can slide the divider, using the little nut in the centre, to create different sizes.
When drawing a portrait, you draw one vertical and one horizontal line across the image, draw a horizontal and vertical on your paper, and then proceed from there.  This Youtube video demonstrates it very well indeed:
I think the photo above speaks for itself, and the video explains everything clearly. I do hope you find this information useful.

Saturday, 8 August 2015


This post is aimed at those who have chosen to follow this blog.  I am sure the vast majority of you are painters, and as such, would prefer to see posts specific to the world of the painter.

Sadly, I have not written many such posts recently, and feel I owe you an explanation.

I have been a painter, and painting tutor, for many a long year...but in recent times, I have developed a condition called "Essential Tremor" which means that when I try to concentrate on sketching, my hand shakes uncontrollably and the sketch is often badly affected.  I have done battle with the condition for a couple of years now, and finally decided, after binning the last lot of images I produced recently, to accept the situation more gracefully, and instead of drifting into inactivity, try to celebrate the fact that I can still type without problems, so am able to share my knowledge ....and can manage, strangely, to work with my enamels and with glass, which does not involve the use of a paintbrush or pencil and does not require concentration on detail in the same way.

Learning new skills is time consuming, and I now spend long hours studying,  experimenting and honing my abilities.  Which has meant that blog-writing has rather been pushed to the background.  But I will try to be a little more consistent after I finish my next OPEN STUDIO - which is Herts Open Studio and begins mid-September, continuing until the 27th -( visitors welcome, do check the dates and times with me if you would like to come along.)

I will be showing my work with glass, and with enamel on copper.  Some of that work will be framed pieces, so I have not totally abandoned 2D work!  Here is a new enamel on copper piece:

This will be on sale for approximately £95.  (I deliberately try to keep most of my framed pieces available during Open Studio events for less than £100, to make them properly affordable.  They would cost far more in a gallery).

Although I may not have used a stick of pastel, or paint and a brush to create this image, nevertheless all the important painting principles apply - tone, colour, shape, mark-making, atmosphere - without a painting background, working two-dimensionally would be much more of a challenge.  I have also had to find new methods and ways to work which are less physically problematical - another challenge.

The glass work is coming along nicely - there is lots to discover, but working with "hot glass" can be really gratifying.  Here is a new piece I like a lot, such rich, yummy colours:

The chocolate and ivory parts are opaque, and the blue strip is transparent.  Again, an understanding of what contributes to strong design plays a big part in the creation of such a piece.  It is a fairly large platter, one of several I've made in similar colours.  Here is another, a shallow, large bowl, but displayed as a piece of art:

So folks you now know why I have been somewhat absent recently - but rest assured that when time allows, I will drop back in with some thoughts for you.  In the meantime, let me just say this. 

Creativity can take many forms.  What stifles creativity is depression, wishing for what cannot be,  lack of energy and enthusiasm.  If you are to achieve anything worthwhile, as an artist of any kind, you need to rise above setbacks and disappointments, and simply SOLDIER ON, trying new things, allowing yourself the opportunity to discover new outlets for your creativity.  If you allow yourself to drift into inactivity because of an obstacle in your way,  and if you find that inactivity miserable, then recognise that YOU are the only one able to make things change.  Just DO something positive about it.  You may just surprise yourself by reinventing yourself.

Thursday, 9 July 2015


Today I received a Facebook message from someone who said this:

"Where did you gain your understanding of colour?  This something I struggle with all the time, and it shows in your work that you really know what you are doing with it".

This was from someone who works with glass, as I do sometimes, rather than from someone who is learning to paint.

It fascinated me to get the question, because it made me realise how much I take my understanding of colour for granted, and how much my training as a painter is helping me in my alternative pursuits.

Here is my latest piece of glass.  At the moment, it is just a fused flat piece.....I am considering whether it will be a bowl in due course, or if it will stay a flat circle and will be displayed on a stand as a work of art, which I feel it is.  It reminds me of Klimt, or anyway I like to feel it does. ( Please ignore the horizontal strips in the blue...that is a reflection of the kiln elements in the lid, while the piece is sitting in the kiln!)

and here are small experimental squares, which may be framed, or may get cut up for jewellery pieces:
Finally, here is piece that was framed and is now sold - ignore, please, the blue screen behind it and the reflections in the glass - a rather poor photo I am afraid, but it is sufficient to make a point about colour which is explained below.
The one thing that all three pieces have in common is that I used a simple technique from the world of colour theory called COLOUR HARMONY - using colours which are alongside each other on the colour wheel.  
This means that each piece has the power of a specific COLOUR TECHNIQUE behind it, to give added design strength.
I regularly go onto "glass forums", and see the work that is produced by people who have no idea at all about colour theory, they just follow their noses and instincts.  Sometimes this is fine, but often the results are rather overpowering at best, psychedelic and rather eye-watering at worst!   I personally feel that an hour or two spent with a good book on colour theory for painters would help them enormously, and I suspect their work would improve dramatically as a result.
However the world is full of all sorts of people, with all sorts of tastes, and hopefully they are all enjoying their work regardless....but if you know little about colour theory, think it is dry and boring and can only be of limited help to you unless you are a painter...I suggest you think again.

Sunday, 24 May 2015


We have looked at the use of cropping, as a tool for the artist to employ.  It is particularly helpful when the image just isn't working as well as one might like -in particular, when the composition is weak.... suddenly, a crop can effect an interesting and dynamic change for the better.

Cropping can be useful in other ways too.

 I wanted to produce an image for a new business card...appropriate for the fascinating glass pieces I have begun to make lately.  I make all sorts...from coasters to large platters, from bowls to framed wall art.  In some instances, the piece may well contain a section of glass which I have "created" myself, almost a painterly effect, with textural interest, and sometimes with beautiful floating colour and depth, much like layers of paint, and marks of paint.

Here is an example:  This bowl has plain, opaque black glass either side, and the central section was a "part sheet" I made, which began as a simple piece of ivory glass.  Onto the ivory glass I placed glass powders, and glass pieces, then it was fused in the kiln to melt the glass so that it looks almost painted...but not quite.  Seen full size, you can almost "look into" the textures on the glass.

Photographing one individual item for my business card just did not feel right because I have produced so many different kinds of items.  In the end, I cropped...well, I allowed the camera to do the cropping.   I photographed sections of glass areas I had created and used for bowls, plates, and wall art.  I ended up with a series of images which would actually be terrific starting points for some interesting abstract paintings!

Harrow Open Studio is fast approaching.  All are welcome..........for further information, drop me a line.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Having a goal in mind

If you have a local "OPEN STUDIO" organisation in your area, do find out when the artists will be showing their works, and have a good look around with a view to doing it too in the future.  It matters not if you have never shown your work before.  It is all about enthusiasm and commitment.   It provides enormous incentive to have a produce whatever you wish, you can share with another if your home is unsuitable, you make it work for you.

I will be doing two Open Studios this year, Harrow Open and Herts Open.  Harrow takes place over two weekends in June, Herts over several weeks in September.  I will publish dates and details nearer the time but you can email me if you want to make a note in your diary.

It is great to have something to work towards. I really enjoy the whole process of working with a goal in mind.

I used to have regular gallery shows of my paintings, but I do not want to do this again, for a variety of reasons.     ( I will not work with a gallery owner who does not appreciate his or her artists properly - galleries are lucky to receive work from artists on a sale or return basis, and I like to feel that this is acknowledged properly - unfortunately this is often not the case.  ) I do provide several nice gallery owners with my bowls.  But I only allow small quantities out of the studio.

So this is why I have yearly Open Studios - it gives me a goal and makes me feel I am in charge of my own destiny.  I can put in as much, or as little, effort as I wish. 

At the moment - there is quite a bit of effort going on.  After seeing the movie of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I was reminded strongly of the glorious colours I had seen in Rhajastan some years ago.  My work at the moment reflects this, and Open Studio here in June will be colourful and vivid.  There will be a small selection of paintings, and a lot of more affordable items, in glass and enamel on copper.

Here is some work in progress:

Painting of street sellers in Rhajastan:
Glass in gorgeous bright colours:
Abstract images in glass to be framed in white box frames...I have made them in blues, reds, turquoises, all sorts of beautiful bright jewel colours.

Even my enamelled bowls have begun to take on rich colours:

Open Studio is an opportunity to meet your audience, show your work to family, friends, and visitors.   If you are worried about the amount of work you may need, then do try to join forces with another artist, or group of artists, in your area, then you do not have to produce a massive amount of work, just enough to dip your toes in the water to discover if it is something you might like to do again.
Off I go, back to the studio to get on with some work! Luckily, I enjoy it all enormously and I hope this will show in the pieces I produce.

Sunday, 22 March 2015


One of my India pastel PAINTINGS

Someone I know, who paints beautiful pastels, sold one of her images to a customer, who informed her that he was looking for an opulent frame for it, because it would make it look more like a "real" painting.

In other words, more like an oil painting.  In his mind, only an oil is a "real" painting.

I am afraid that although pastels have become more accepted in recent years, there are still many people who know little about art, their understanding of what makes a "proper painting" is coloured by preconceptions about what makes good art.  Those preconceptions must somehow have been established in childhood and had been carried with them all their lives.   In their minds, the only "proper" paintings are oils.  Watercolours perhaps are considered almost as good...but still, they need to be cheaper because they are "easier" to paint.  

  I find this attitude quite amazing, given that most people today must have had SOME art education...even if it was only rudimentary.  I do know that when I was at school, we were expected to learn to draw, and we did a bit of painting.  That was the extent of my art education up to the age of 16.  But my young Aussie cousins learned far more than I did, having had art history on their curriculum even at age 12. 

Many people also place a value on the length of time it takes to produce a painting.  They admire difficulty of execution.  The more highly detailed a painting, often the more many of you have heard those dreaded words "so how long did it take you to paint that?"  Proof positive that the viewer places a value on the time and difficulty involved.  This is something the artist finds hard to avoid, unfortunately.
There should be art education in schools, not just how to paint, but how to appreciate paintings, art history, all sorts.  World history could be told through art!   People need to place value on elements other than time taken, difficulty of execution, medium used.  They need to learn to appreciate uniqueness of vision, originality, emotional content, pure many aspects could be taught and learned.    Art is such a valuable part of society...imagine a society without any art in it!!! 

People today have access to so much information via the internet, there are hundreds of galleries to visit in person, and there are books galore in libraries.  Yet, these extraordinary preconceptions do still exist.   I have lost count of the number of people I have come across who sniff at pastels as a medium.  

One of my favourite landscape painters today - a pastel by Richard McKinley

So, whenever I show my work,  I always put up a card which explains what pastels are, how they have been used by Masters of the past, how they are pure pigments, unadulterated by oils which help them to darken -  or by the gum tragacanth added to pigments to make watercolours, plus water...which means they fade.  Pastels are pure pigments mixed with small quantities of natural binders.  They are not made with chemicals or plastics. So in fact, they often have greater longevity and integrity than most other materials in use today.

A Master of the past....Mary Cassatt

Some years ago, I produced a series of ballet images.  The parents of a girl I painted standing at the barre, really loved my finished piece.  They wanted to buy it.  When they learned it was a pastel, however, they insisted it was not worth its money, because it was not a "proper painting" and they refused to buy it.   They were not prepared to listen to my explanation of pastel as a medium.  It was their loss - someone else snapped it up, and they were really upset.  So how foolish was that?  Their determination that pastels were not "proper" as a medium was unshakeable.

Sadly the world we live in is full of people with unshakeable beliefs, beliefs which are about as solid and permanent as "pie crusts".  Wouldn't the world be a better place if we were all more open to the idea of learning and expanding our horizons, using our intelligence, and the amazing resources we have today,  to educate ourselves, and shift away from entrenched ideas which may be inaccurate, and are based on nothing more than built-in prejudice and lack of information.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015


I read somewhere "Life is too short to learn painting only by trial and error".

When I visit art forums on line, I am often confronted with people picking up a photo, doing their utmost to copy it, but sadly,  never doing anything more to learn about painting.  They clearly expect, by trial and error, to learn as they paint.....well, they may learn SOMETHING as they paint, but all too often, they will repeat "learned mistakes".

We all have to make mistakes, yes.  But to keep on repeating those mistakes because no attempt has been made to discover what they are, and how to correct them, seems a bit daft to me.

So what is the answer?  You live miles from anywhere;  there are no decent classes to go to;  you are too old to start going to classes anyway;  you have no alternative.

I would argue that yes, you do, actually.

There are libraries everywhere.  There are books galore out there.  There is the internet.  You have to make the time. While it is fun to sit down with paper/canvas and paint, or to spend hours browsing the internet, working out what next to buy in terms of art materials - all that is the easy stuff.   But the harder stuff....the learning....can only be done, if you have no nearby class to attend, (or even if you do, depending on the skill of your tutor) by reading.  Lots of reading.

Let the writers of those books be your teachers.  Let them inspire you, and motivate you.  Learn about :

TONES - and value patterns

COLOUR - learn the colour wheel, colour temperature, and how to make colours "work" for you in a painting.

DESIGN - try to find out what makes good design, and why.  If you have a good underlying design for your painting, it will stand out from the crowd.

EMOTION - Think of it as a treasure hunt.  It will take you quite a bit of time to find out what it is that makes a painting special, makes it memorable, makes the viewer feel the artist's passion.  Painting what you feel - delight, despair, love, anger, awe - all of these are emotional responses to your subject, and you need to BEGIN, at the very least,  to find out how best you can express something of your feelings in your work.  Why bother otherwise?  Copying photos?  Most of the time, you just end up with a second-rate version of that photo! 

Learning about tone, colour, and design - these are things which truly can be "learned".  There are rules to follow which will help you - how great is that!

Learning about how to express your feelings is something else again. And not easy.  But the good news is that as we gradually learn, we begin to find out what satisfies us as artists...what challenges us....what excites us.   Take time to think about what it is that is most important to it particular subject-matter?    Others are driven by colour, and/or design, or the prevailing light....while their subject matter is varied.  What matters is your sense of commitment.  Learn to recognise your passion, and that will give each day more meaning, and your paintings will reflect that.  Try finishing this sentence:
"If I only had one day left to paint, I would paint..............."   

Finally let me introduce you to an artist who is passionate about painting, and about landscapes in particular. He is a bit of a hermit, tucked away painting every day with absolute passion and commitment. He has no interest in painting "for the market ", or in copying photos.  He is not worried about whether his work is "in fashion".  His work has deep emotion, with a dreamlike quality  - simple, but powerfully emotive.
Steven Outram :  I recommend a visit to his website:
He made it his business to learn, thoroughly, from the Old Masters.....yet despite their influence, or perhaps because of it... he is absolutely his own man, he emulates nobody.  He understand the craft of painting really well - and he produces beautiful, sensitive work revealing his emotions and feelings....and has this ability because he left nothing to trial and error.

‘I want to create a reality that the viewer feels they can step into, even to lose themselves in. My works are imagined,   but have their origins in how I’ve felt about something actually seen. Themes that run through my art are transience, the sustaining power of the forces of nature, and an elusive beauty which can be seen if we care to look

Sunday, 18 January 2015


They say "you never know until you try".  And in my current creative mode, there is a lot of trying going on.

Henri Matisse said "An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation or prisoner of success".

I find it hard to change, and after many years of painting, had begun to feel a little like a prisoner of my own well-established painting I have taken a few leaps sideways. 

 I am currently using alternative mediums instead of paints or pastels. I use powdered glass to create drawings and images .....enamel powders, which are glass, were used to create this landscape on a sheet of copper.  I have to sprinkle the powder onto the surface of the copper, and move it around to create shapes.   I have had to learn how the material will react to both metal, and kiln.  Some enamels are opaque, others transparent.  Seconds make all the difference inside the kiln.  Lots of unusual things can happen!  But that makes it all really fascinating.    I call this image "Melting off".   As you can see, there is a great deal of simplification going on here...a lot is left to the viewer's imagination........and after many trips to the kiln, I have ended up with a form of semi-figurative image - or semi-abstract if you like, looking much like a painting:

And here is another work in progress.  I am quite new to the medium of glass.  This "drawing" was created with black glass powder - very fine indeed.  I sprinkle this onto the surface of a piece of glass, and working in a similar way to the piece above, I move the powder around with brushes, sticks, rubber shapers, fingers - all sorts.   This has yet to be fired, it is just the "raw powder" onto clear glass.
In both instances, I really had to work hard at allowing myself to respond to a new medium, while at the same time, remembering and using many of the traditional principles I have used for donkey's years!
In so doing, I have almost come full circle.  Through working with enamels, and now glass, I have found myself returning to figurative imagery...but in a rather different way.  It is really exciting.  I have always liked the idea of semi-figurative art pieces, where reality is gently manipulated and abstract elements combine with illustrative ones to create a piece where suggestive illusion and viewer interpretation both play a part.
I once read this, and wrote it in a sketchbook:  "there are countless ways of creating a good painting, but there is one certain way of creating a bad one;  depicting precisely what you see".  This is because we "see" too much.   A painting - or creative image such as those above - needs to be more than just an imitation of objects.
So - if you are feeling a bit stuck, and have a nagging sense of dissatisfaction with what you are doing - why not try a change of medium -not necessarily the ones I have chosen - there are plenty of alternatives -  you never know what might happen as a result.
"Art only begins where imitation ends".  Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


I recently tried to help someone with a painting.  The artist had complained  that the painting had brought forth no nice comments from people who had seen it, and he thought that perhaps he should have handled it differently.

I pointed out to him some of the reasons why I felt that the painting had perhaps not been as successful as others he had done.  I explained why I felt that the composition of the painting was rather weakened by certain elements,  - most of my reasons were based on the "geometry" underlying the image.

This clearly did not go down very well.  The response I received was "well, that is far too complicated ,  I cannot see myself ever thinking about echoes, horizontals, diagonals and stuff like that".

A classic bit of inflexible thinking.  While I can understand that some concepts are tricky to comprehend, and perhaps "see" at first glance, nevertheless surely it is worth trying rather than dismissing the whole idea instantly?

I do get it that people like to paint something that excites them.  It is the subject-matter that hits their conscious mind, first and foremost.  But there are times when what appears to be super subject-matter, turns into a rather boring painting.   And then, it is necessary to search for reasons why. 
I personally believe that often, the reason why that painting disappoints is because many of the underlying important elements of "what makes a painting work" have been ignored, misunderstood, or simply overlooked.   

Painting isn't just about accurately portraying a glorious sunset....or a cute-looking dog ....or an interesting building.

Painting is about all of those things, PLUS loads of other things......amongst them things like this:

  • Pattern - the arrangement of light and dark shapes within your rectangle
  • Directing the eye - the path of the viewer's eye, which depends upon visual connections
  • The Focal Area - a centre of interest
  • Colour - creating colour relationships, using colour theory concepts
  • Design - the basics of an attractive "layout" for your image
  • Shapes and Edges - thinking about how to create rhythm, balance, emphasis where needed
  • Key - thinking about the mood you want to create, and how this can be achieved
Not one of these things will show you how to paint a tree, a background, a portrait.  But without at least taking on board the fact that all of these things, and more,  are part of learning to paint, and having an open mind about TRYING, gradually, to learn something about these powerful tools which help to build a good, strong image,  your paintings will simply be an attempt to reproduce reality, without any of the underlying, secret messages which make a painting good enough to stop a viewer in his or her tracks.

OK I will get off my soapbox now.

Here are some images which were painted by a favourite artist of mine - Tony Allain.    His work always stops ME in my tracks.  And the reason it does, is nothing to do with the subject matter.  I love the energy of these images, the confidence of the big shapes, the dynamism, the surprising, exciting colour. I wish I could be half so bold and brave.     If you like these, do take a look at more of his works.



Sunday, 4 January 2015


Happy New Year to one and all!

I started my New Year on a happy note, watching the engaging artist Christian Hook win the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year award 2015.  This is the self-portrait which resulted in his selection as a competitor:

  He has prompted me to get back up on my soapbox once again, and even to re-examine my own processes along the way.

Any artist who watched those trying to win the coveted prize would have found the programme particular, I was fascinated by how many used the camera quite openly - in fact, I was, perhaps because I am somewhat old-fashioned about some things, slightly horrified to see them taking pictures of the sitters on their ipads, and then, with hardly a glance again at the sitter, they worked directly from those images.  I felt it was rather rude to the poor person sitting for them for 4 hours, quite frankly - if I had been that sitter, I would have been not only rather upset, but also rather irritated, I think - what on earth is the point in sitting, painfully - because it IS painful to sit still for four hours - if the artist doesn't even look at me!  However, in each episode of the programme, there were several artists at work, and some of them did work from the sitter - so the sitters had to suffer I suppose. 

Christian, the winner, works partly from photographic reference material...but in his case, the photo is purely a starting point. He said - and I am paraphrasing here - that he feels the camera produces a finished piece of work, and it is the artist's job to take things further, in order to express his creativity.   This earned a huge round of applause from me and is the main message of this blog post.

Christian likes to create a mess on his canvas...for quite some considerable time.  He then begins to "find" the portrait in the mess....but even then, he will regularly ruin what he creates, in order to deliberately make mistakes, and come back strongly again from those mistakes.  He likes to have a sense of movement in his images - and achieves this powerfully.

Here is his portrait of Ian McKellan. What a brilliant likeness, and what an exciting image, created within just four hours.

And here is, alongside Ian McKellan, a commissioned portrait of Amir Khan, the boxer.  Khan asked Christian to show, somehow, within the portrait, that he is not just a fighter, but also a compassionate man who does lots of work for charity and with children.  Notice the moving forward arm, at the base of which is Amir's hand, enclosing the small hand of a child.  
Christian Hook shows that he does not slavishly copy his photographs, instead, he used them purely as a vehicle for his creativity.  At some point, although the portrait is anatomically correct with every measurement of the face absolutely spot on, he shifts into a different gear, and the paint is moved around, pushed, pulled, scraped, bullied sometimes, responded to with sensitivity at other times,  every brushstroke helping towards a finish piece which is not just lively but also uniquely creative.
If you live in the UK and can get the programme on catch-up TV, do watch Christian working with actor Alan Cumming to produce a portrait for the Scottish National Gallery, it is quite an extraordinary programme.  Christian was allowed to do three "warm-up" portraits before embarking on the finished piece.  The camera crew filmed those pieces and we were able to see a most unusual creativity at work.  His first warm-up was fairly straightforward;  the second one was a collaboration with Alan Cumming, who was encouraged to do some painting on the canvas, and Christian then painted over some of the resulting image to produce a fabulous portrait piece, leaving some of Alan's work still there.  The third warm-up was rather mind-boggling.  Alan was encouraged to DANCE to a piece of operatic music, and Christian tried to copy his movements - so as Alan moved an arm out to the left, Christian moved his brush in exactly the same direction.  Somehow, a portrait sketch emerged during the process.  It was quite something to watch.  You can watch some of this last warm-up here:

if you would like to see more of the portraits painted for the competition, you can Google Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year, and I believe there are also some time lapse youtube vids to watch too - tho I could not find the recent ones. 

Maybe this time of year is a time for contemplation of our process, to see if we too can become more uniquely creative. 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

FUSION in more ways than one

Occasionally I introduce you to an artist of note, someone whose work has interested this case, AMAZED me.  I am completely bowled over by this brilliant lady, whose draughtmanship is outstanding, and method is breathtaking in its originality.  I hope you really enjoy this short, pre-Christmas blog.

I am stretching my wings yet again, and making a foray into the world of glass.  It began with the use of enamel on copper - you may remember my bowls and panels - and I decided to take the use of the kiln a little further, and try working with glass.  Enamel powder is glass, so the two forms of craft seem somewhat linked, in my mind. 

I spend a great deal of time on line, researching methods and approaches for this new world of activity....and yesterday, I came across Catharine Newell, an American artist, who works with glass.  She DRAWS with glass.  With glass powder.   !!!  Moving the powder around manually,  on a surface of sheet glass, she creates extraordinary drawings of power and beauty.  

I called this post "FUSION in more ways than one" because what she does is perhaps the most remarkable fusion of craftmanship and draughtmanship I have seen in a long time.  There is also a slight play on words in there too, since the work, when completed, is fused in a kiln.  The image then becomes part of the glass surface. 

Her work speaks for itself, so I will simply share it with you.  Think of it as my gift to you this Christmas.    Just remember, as you look at these images, that they are created not with paint, pastel or charcoal, but with POWDER sprinkled onto the slippery surface of a piece of GLASS:

Ok now are you amazed?  Well be more this video for 6 wonderful minutes:

I feel privileged to have found her.  I hope you will feel the same way.  

Perhaps next time, I can show you my own attempts to work with this medium.  Maybe.  I feel so inadequate right now.....

Wishing you all a very happy, peaceful and joy-filled Christmas and best wishes for 2015.

Sunday, 30 November 2014


I am not a portrait painter, but occasionally I am asked for advice about particular when the likeness is good, but the picture is still rather dull.     We have a wonderful programme on our televisions here in the UK right now...Portrait artist of the Year...and watching the artists work got me thinking.

I am not about to go into details about portraiture here, this is a blog post, and the subject is far too huge to go into details.  What I will say is that it is more than getting the likeness right.  There is a lot to consider.  for instance, You need to think about the way the sitter is "lit".     you need to think carefully about the temperature of the prevailing light, as well as the kind of skin tone that individual might have.   You need to think about how to position the portrait on the canvas or paper.  You need to consider the background.     

  If you find yourself thinking "what is she on about?  Surely I just need to get a good likeness" I hope you might feel that this blog post will show that a good likeness is only part of the effort.    Of course, a good likeness is to be applauded...but you want it to be a good painting TOO, I am sure.

Lots of artists pick up, or are given, a photo to work from, and they crack on with it.   I would like to encourage you, if you decide to try portraits, to be prepared to spend time studying how other artists work, before you leap into the water and start frantically paddling upstream.  

Today I came across a painting which I used when trying to help someone who had painted a portrait using a palette of simple flesh tones...every shade of peach and apricot they could possibly mix.  She had achieved a good likeness....yet - that portrait looked dull.  How can this be?  She had used skin tones.......and had a good likeness....isn't that enough? 

Well, you can go out and buy flesh-coloured paint.  And you can get boxes of pastels in "portrait colours".  So why don't they do the job well enough?

This is the painting I showed. I normally do not like smiley portraits ....but this one is painted so well, and the artist has such a wonderful palette, I want to share it with you:

  • The artist has stuck closely to the rule "warm light = cool shadows". - although it is not very warm light, just enough to give us SOME cool colours in the shadows.    Just look at those lovely blues, lavender, and cool blue-pink. 

  •  And see how the artist has remembered that where skin folds in on itself, deep warms the ear, and inside the nose, and in the corner of the mouth.

  • Look at the eyes.  We really "feel" the roundness of the eyeball, and the fact that there is an "eye socket" in the skull, which the eye sits in.

  • Look at the colours in the hair.  touches of brown, lavender, pink, raw sienna, burnt sienna, pale cream.  

  • And notice how soft is the edge of the cheek on the right, even tho it is set against a lighter background...there is one particular area where the artist has perhaps "softened" the edge with a there is no hard, dark line to bring that cheek forwards.

  • Finally, look at the pose.  So nice to see something rather unconventional. This "glancing over his shoulder" is a pose which captures a moment in time, which we all know will only have lasted for a second or two and is thanks to a camera, but in this instance it works because it really captures the cheekiness of this little chap.
  •  Also look at how the artist has cropped right in, bringing the portrait right up to the edge of the rectangle at the top, rather than positioning the portrait in the centre,  with loads of space/background all around.  As a result, there is a lovely sense of intimacy here. 

It is a beautifully painted portrait,   modern in approach yet so sensitive. The artist is Talya Johnson.

A browse on line, or time spent in a library, studying the work of good portrait painters, to see how they handle light on skin and analysing what they did and why, is time SO well spent.  Also, do spend time learning about the underlying structure of the skull and the muscles of the will make all the difference to your work. 

PLEASE don't just imagine that all you need is a good photo to work from - and that if you get all the features in the right place, and get a good likeness, you will have a good painting.  there is more to it than that, as I hope I have been able to explain.



Saturday, 8 November 2014


Firstly...I must apologise for a long absence from this has been down to what has been called "a temporary disability" which is still with me, and I may not be back on form for a little while.

In the meantime, I have an important thought I just want to share.

I recently gave some advice to someone about a painting.  I commented that the drawing needed some refinement...the shapes were wrong, wrong for proportion, wrong for shape.  So the object in question simply did not "read" as it should.

The response given was "I cannot draw things in correct proportions or shapes.....sorry...I just cannot do it".

MY response was.......  Oh yes you can.  When you say the phrase "I cannot", what you are saying is "I will not".  It is as simple and straightforward as that.

When I was a student, my drawings were often out of proportion.  I was told by a tutor "Jackie, you will never be able to draw with accuracy, so you might as well resort to distortion".          !!!

This infuriated me, and I resolved to work harder at getting things right.  I knew I could "resort to distortion" at any time.........but to do so IN PLACE of getting things right?   Not for me.  I knew I had to work harder at measuring and comparing.  So I did.

It was not easy.  For ages, my drawings were stiff, and looked laboured.  I found measuring tedious and difficult.  BUT eventually, miraculously to me,  my facility to "see" better began to improve.  I found the drawings becoming stronger, better for accuracy, more fluent.  I will always have to double-check measurements;  I do not always hit total accuracy and perfect proportions right off - I avoid doing portraits for this very reason.  (I feel a portrait which is too "fiddled with" loses spontaneity, so I'd rather try something else.)  But I have certainly surprised myself by NOT having to resort to distortion! 

I do recognise that sometimes, we need to accept certain limitations - - and at this moment in my life, I am having to do just that as my body presents me with challenges - but rather than produce failures as a result, I am teaching myself to overcome disability and adjust my methods of being creative.

If you want to draw and paint, and recognise that you are WEAK in certain areas - and that is all it is, weakness, not inability - then be prepared to grit your teeth, and put in the work to become stronger.  You will never regret it.

ok getting off my soapbox now..........................

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Heads hanging on a line......

I recently read a post from a beginner, on an art forum.  He said that he had recently read that "all heads hang on a line", in a room scene.  He was slightly baffled by this statement, since, as he rightly said, people are different sizes, so he questioned how can it be right that all heads in a scene would be on the same level?

I find it worrying when I read things like this.  Perhaps the student mis-read the quote..or didn't read on for the explanation, which can be the only excuse for such a sweeping generalisation.  We all like to have nice, simple "rules" like this to tuck away in our memory banks. BUT they can let us down if we do not fully understand them and use them willy-nilly.

When you begin to include people in your pictures, there are lots of things to bear in mind.  The most important one is YOUR EYE LEVEL.  This will vary, depending on whether you are standing, or sitting, to paint/sketch.      Then, after that,the relative heights of the individuals in the scene can be taken into account - children, for instance, will be shorter than adults obviously......but relative heights MUST be a secondary consideration.  Understanding your eye level fully is essential.  To find it, put a small sketchbook horizontally onto the bridge of your nose, make sure it is level, not tipped up or down, and look out across it. Where it visually "touches", that is your eye level.

Here is a sketch I found in an old book - look at the clothes, you will get a sense of how old the book is!!!  I was most amused. However,  It really explains, visually, why the eye level is so important:

The bottom sketch illustrates the "heads on a line" idea.  Clearly, the painter was standing, so HIS head, and eyes, are on the same level as the other standing people in the scene.  Perspective comes into play....the road lines converge on the VP, the vanishing point, on the eye level line.

In the middle image, the painter's eyes are at chest level, and in the top image, the painter would have been sitting down, because his eye level cuts across the skaters' KNEES!  There are two vanishing points....but both are still on the eye level.  Notice that the heads of the figures marked a and b are on the same level;  this is because they are approximately the same distance from the painter.

If you put people into a scene, particularly if you are taking them from different sketches or different sources, or if you are sketching outdoors and people are coming and going,  you need to be very careful to ensure that the eye level is taken into account and your figures remain true to it.

I stood to sketch this scene, so all except the kids are more or less the same height, heads on a line!  My eye level is where their heads are.  Looking at it now, I am a bit suspicious of the lady in the orange coat......?? ( Maybe she was very tall.......and just a smidgen closer to me....that's my excuse and I am sticking to it)

Here, I sat to paint, so the closer people are larger and heads higher, the ones further away much smaller and their heads are lower in height - so this means that my eye level was much lower for this scene, probably about the height of some of the central boxes.  Of course, if someone is bending, that's a whole different matter.........

Keep the eye level firmly fixed in your mind - and perhaps mark it on your canvas too - you should find it helpful.